Clark makes his return at Riviera
PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. - There’s a familiar face at Riviera this week that hasn’t graced the Tour since last May’s Players Championship. Tim Clark, who underwent surgery in August to repair a torn tendon in his right elbow, says he knows his rusty game isn’t quite Tour-ready, but he’s eager to tee it up in competition and assess exactly where he is in terms of strength.
“The arm itself feels OK for now. Obviously I don’t have much speed in the swing, and I’m trying to build that up now. Not that I had a hell of a lot of speed before,” Clark said with a laugh after hitting balls in light rain Wednesday. Clark never has been one of the Tour’s longest hitters, but always has ranked among its scrappiest competitors, collecting nearly $18 million in career earnings.
“It’s going to take a while,” he said. “It feels pretty good. How will I play? Hard to say, really.”
Clark made only four official starts in 2011. He got off to a fast start in Hawaii last season, tying for 17th at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions and tying for second at the Sony Open, where he shot 66-64 in a 36-hole final on Sunday. When he returned home to Arizona, his elbow was killing him. He was told he had tendinitis. He tried to rehab and rest and then teed it up at the Masters (73-73) and Players, where he withdrew after an opening 74. Until this week, he hadn’t been back, save for a stint as assistant captain on the International Presidents Cup team at Royal Melbourne in November.
“I could tell it wasn’t any good,” he said, running his left hand atop his right forearm to the elbow. “After that I went in for more MRIs and they told me, ‘it looks like it’s torn.’ It was terrible. I couldn’t lift a club off the ground. At Augusta, I couldn’t pick a club up with my right hand. So it’s way better, but I know I need to make things stronger to come out here.”
As the 2010 Players champion, Clark, 36, is exempt on Tour through 2015, and thus can pick and choose his spots. After a career spent circling the globe, the South African said he’s been a bit spoiled spending so much time at home in Scottsdale – especially considering he and his wife, Candie, welcomed their first child 10 months ago.
“It’s going to be quite tough to travel once again,” he said. “But obviously you miss the guys, and you miss the competitive side of it. That’s why we enjoy playing the game, for the competition and the challenge. Having been away from that for a year, you kind of forget what it’s all about.”
Clark said if all goes well at Riviera, he’d likely play again at the Transitions Championship outside Tampa, Fla., next month. That would touch off a longer stretch for him him to test the elbow, with consecutive starts in Florida at Transitions and Bay Hill (Arnold Palmer Invitational) as well as the unofficial, two-day Tavistock Cup at Lake Nona.
“The most interesting thing will be where am I going to be mentally,” he said of the task ahead in the Northern Trust Open. He tees off alongside Padraig Harrington and Rory Sabbatini Thursday at 12:43 p.m. off No. 10. “I’m not going to try to put too much pressure on myself. . . . I’m not going to be at full strength physically or mentally, so I’ve just got to try and enjoy it for now. I’ve been through this before – I missed my very first year (tearing cartilage in his wrist to end his rookie season after three starts in 2001) and I was able to come back.
“Hopefully this won’t take too long, but I know I will be back, and hopefully sooner than later. I’m not too worried about that.”